(Producing Arts for a New Generation)
"It's like the strings tugging at your heart when the love of your life
walks by!" laughed one of the merchandise guys over a bustling lobby
crowd to a girl inquiring what PANG meant. Well, that's unlikely, sir,
but something powerful certainly pulled a number of curiosities into the
Storefront Theater on Friday, February 1. In a city where the hip-hop
scene might seem to be struggling, there is hope, my friends.
A diverse and brilliant group of young artists pumped energy into the intimate
99-seat theater when they recently performed the premier of ABOVEGROUND,
a show that had its audience anticipating "a fusion of hip-hop and
theater ... that dismantles clichés," and delivered just that.
ABOVEGROUND is one of the many events brought to life by a group called
PANG (Producing Arts for a New Generation). Now in their second season,
PANG is a Chicago-based ensemble of young producers from varied fields
who aim to embrace knowledge, interaction, and expansion in order to
challenge existing mass tastes and ignite a visionary flame within
themselves and their audiences. PANG is one of several programs of Free
Street, an organization that, since 1969, has supported revolutionary
performing arts by young visionaries and aims to "amplify the quiet
voices shaping culture." Their success is evident in performances such
as ABOVEGROUND, in which the voices involved were anything but subtle.
The Platter Pirates (DJ Kico and DJ Spryte) kicked off the show with a
short but sweet set of original beats and fresh technical skills, and
set the dynamic mood for the rest of the night without saying a word.
Impressive - yet not surprising - as Kico is a two-time holder of a
regional title, and Spryte is a recipient of the International
Turntablist Federation World Scratch Championship. DJ Spryte, or Chris,
said that he's been spinning since about '96 and is involved mostly in
performances and productions such as ABOVEGROUND, as opposed to the club
scene. Primeridian, Chicago hip-hop duo Simon Viltz and Jaime Roundtree,
fell nothing short of the Platter Pirates DJ Crew, proving that there is
much more to their art than the rap most of our ears are accustomed to.
"See-me-on" and "tree" performed spoken word versions of their work that
was released on albums that included other rhyming masters such as Mos
Def (Guidance Recordings). They later turned things up a notch, or ten,
with tasteful rhyming and a bit of freestyle. Although I was
disappointed that Wrigleyville's own Won Yup Kim, student and artist,
didn't do any live graffiti, his performance spoke effectively to the
issues that he and other graffiti masters face. Won mimicked a city
worker (complete with orange vest) by laboriously rolling white paint
over his own work that was displayed on a wall. Meanwhile, video master
Konee Rok displayed footage of Won visiting sites throughout Chicago
where his murals had been destroyed due to a city ordinance. The result?
A powerful combination of documentary and performance that addressed the
misfortune of attempted suppression of graffiti art.
The Chicago Tribe
Break Dancers (three B-boys and one B-girl) performed an outstanding and
graceful piece choreographed to a BjÖrk composition that maintained the
innovation and energy that is alive in the clubs. The four managed to
harmonize wild moves with a fresh mellow soundtrack. They took an
efficient approach to another set of moves by playing a kind of "Simon
says" with a dancer on the video screen, whom they mimicked, challenged
and collaborated with.
In the same way it began, the show ended with a
video capturing different artists and musicians active in the hip-hop
scene trying to define the term "hip-hop" and the culture that lies
behind it. One artist's response: "If you have to ask the question,
you'll never truly know."
Was ABOVEGROUND attempting to defy, embrace or
simply challenge that concept? The answer: All of the above.
mastermind behind ABOVEGROUND, 22-year-old director and student Franco
DeLeon is active in theater as well as hip-hop culture. About six or
seven months of work went into the show, during which Franco said he was
likely listening to anything from James Taylor to James Brown.
interests are various and I want to blend the person I am into my art
... cross theater and art in order to appeal to a bigger audience,"
Franco said. In response to the issue of hip-hop culture's claim to
staying underground, Franco said: "You grow up and realize that you want
to make a career. ... I do what I do, I like what I like, and I want to
When PANG deemed Franco a "sound and movement fusionist,"
he hit it on the head by responding with great thanks to them for giving
him something to fuse.
PANG's next production at the Storefront Theater
is a multi-media collaboration by artists Shirka Urechko and Erin May
entitled Hobo Love Stories, and will take place in April. Several other
events they have planned will take place at the Free Street space, for
"$10 or pay what you can."
Photographs by J. Luca Ackerman